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Bariatric Surgery & Alcohol Abuse

Learn why bariatric surgery sometimes leads to alcohol abuse in this Howcast video featuring addictions specialist Paul J. Rinaldi, Ph.D.


There have been questions recently in the media about bariatric surgery and their relationship to alcohol abuse or alcohol issues. Bariatric surgery is when people have surgery to make their stomach smaller essentially, to lose weight.

There has been some evidence now, showing that there is new onset alcohol problems after bariatric surgery. We don't really necessarily know 100% yet from research why that is, what the real causes are. However, clinically what often is reported is that when people aren't treated, when people have bariatric surgery they are treated medically, but really they should be treated psychologically.

Prior to having bariatric surgery, patients should receive a psychological evaluation that really looks at a variety of psychological issues. That is often done, but sometimes is not done. And what people often find is that sometimes people have been excessively overweight for metabolic and medical reasons, but sometimes it's for psychological reasons.

Those who have been overweight for psychological reasons often have been overeating for something else, because of something else, not because of hunger. And so, those are people who may start drinking for the same reasons that they may have been overeating. And now they can't overeat because their stomach can't tolerate the food. So, often we hear people say that they're kind of eating emotionally. Well, now maybe if that's true, what they're doing is they're drinking emotionally. In other words they're trying to get away from certain negative emotions, so they'll start using alcohol to do so.

So then, what we see is people start having trouble with their alcohol use. And sometimes it's people who have never really been drinkers in the past, so it's a very interesting relationship that we're just starting to learn about, and to study. And I think over the next couple of years we'll see more research, and have more answers as to why this is happening.

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